Friday, July 24, 2015

The Dog Days of Summer

Summer in Laramie can be so perfect that you cling to every day, knowing that it doesn't last long.  Tonight, I sat on our back patio, a light breeze adding just enough cool to the warm air to make it exceptionally nice.  I looked around, realizing that from my vantage point, without moving from my chair, I could photograph a collection of objects that epitomize summer and home life.

Adirondack chair:  My Dad made this for us out of cypress wood from the southeastern U.S.  He lives in Virginia, and I don’t even remember how the chair made its way to Wyoming.  Now, years later, it’s finally falling apart, but it’s hard to part with.  I still use it to set things on—mostly plates of food to be grilled.  And I can’t quite bring myself to throw it away, even as it becomes more unsittable.

Plastic patio chair:  Like the one I’m sitting on.  We bought four of these some years ago; I can’t remember how many.  This year I hauled their cushions to the dump.  They were too decrepit to use and had been stored in the garage and covered with dust, but the chairs still work.  They aren’t as elegant as a handmade cypress Adirondack chair, but I sit in them anyway.  We have four.  For guests.  Sometimes, when the clothesline is full, I hang socks over the backs of them to dry.

Old Weber grill:  I live in a household of near-vegetarians.  Ellen and Bei eat chicken if it is organic and stripped clean of skin and bones and chicken fat.  Ellen also eats fish if it is absolutely fresh.  I relish red meat, and lovingly grill 0.81 pound Safeway rib eye steaks when I can’t go without for one more minute.  The grill is no longer air tight, so after I grill, all the charcoal burns up even when I put the lid back on.  It would probably be cheaper to buy a new grill than to keep buying charcoal, but I haven’t gotten around to it.

Charcoal:  A bag of charcoal with hickory somehow embedded, stored in the garage.  It seems like a good idea to use charcoal that has hickory in it, even though I don’t really know what hickory tastes like.

Grill brush:  This was a gift from my  near-vegetarian family.  I heard on NPR that a clean grate is the key to good grilling.  Before I cook a rib eye, I scrape off the remains of the last one.  And Ellen and Bei feel better that before I grill vegetables I make an effort to remove the beef.

Tomatoes:  Ellen grows these every year, despite the short Laramie growing season.  They taste way better than the ones at the store, but when the green ones start to appear on the plants, it means that summer is almost over.  We move the plants into the laundry room before the tomatoes are ripe to save them from the first freeze, and we are usually well into winter snow before we finish eating the last fresh tomato.

Hose paraphernalia:  Ellen is the gardener in the family, and we have lots of this kind of shit in the garage and house, attached to the hose bib, and scattered around the lawn.  It’s complicated—valves and timers and couplings.  I’m never sure which of it works and which has failed, so I don’t throw it away.  Instead, it gets put into piles that then get moved out of the way, and we buy some more at the Ace Hardware up the street. 

Rocks:  These are rocks that we’ve collected when camping.  We usually find good ones…too good to just leave laying on the ground.  So we bring them home and store them on the fence.  The winter wind in Laramie is strong enough to blow them off the fence, but we pick them up in the spring and put them back where they belong.  Then we go look for more.

Hanging flower baskets:  The idea is to have lovely hanging flowers around the house.  We have some, but some we don’t get around to planting, and then winter comes again.

Woodpile:  When we bought our house, I had a lot more energy for remodeling, so I bought a cord of wood and a stove to keep the garage warm when I was milling trim and upgrading the kitchen.  Now I don’t want to work on the house ever again, so the woodpile is rotting away, sheltering rabbits and mice.  Sometimes I take some for campfires if I remember to pack it into a plastic milk crate before I hit the road. 

Clothesline:  In the summer in Laramie, clothes dry faster on the line than they do in the dryer.  This is true in the dry air of day and even by moonlight.  It seems good to air dry clothes instead of burning natural gas in the dryer, but we don’t have quite enough clothes pins.

Cat platform:  Our current cats (Henry and Psymon) are indoor cats (prisoners).  Our last generation of cats (Ernie and Zopie) could come and go as they pleased, which may have contributed to their demise.  I built this platform to provide them with a place to assess the backyard after they exited their cat door.

Tile mosaic (art):  Bei made this tile mosaic during an art camp in Boulder, Colorado.  We display it in the backyard, behind one of our patio chairs. 

Last light:  The last light of day on our neighbor’s tree.  It’s surprising how often the light at the end of the day in Laramie in the summer is perfectly golden and warm, and it’s surprising how little time the trees have leaves on them to take advantage of it.  When I see the golden light, I feel vaguely guilty that I’m sitting in the backyard instead of driving around to make more dramatic and meaningful photographs.

Cold margarita:  A nice cold margarita (the ice melted) on our patio table.  Just enough of a cocktail to encourage me to blog about stuff on our back patio.  

Monday, June 15, 2015

Canyoneering: Salt Trail Canyon and Big Canyon

Don Reyes on one of the rappels in Big Canyon.
(Click images to view larger)

The Grand Canyon remains a big hole in my knowledge of southwestern geography.  I’ve spent a lot of time on the Colorado Plateau in Utah, but very little in the Grand Canyon, save a trip to Phantom Ranch to try to climb the Zoroaster Temple (it snowed) and a short hike from the rim when I was a teenager on a family vacation.  There’s been a lot of interest in canyoneering in the Grand Canyon lately, especially with the publication of Grand Canyoneering, a masterful overview by Todd Martin, and a film in the Banff Festival in 2013 called Last of the Great Unknown, by canyoneer Dan Ransom, that highlighted exploration in the canyon. 

In May, I joined Larry Scritchfield, Jim Akers, and Don Reyes to begin to fill the knowledge hole.  Grand canyoneering is famous for long, grueling multiday treks, many of which require the use of packrafts to escape down the Colorado River after emerging from whatever canyon you have descended.  None of us have invested in packable boats yet, so for our first Grand Canyon adventure we chose Salt Trail Canyon and Big Canyon, both of which empty into the Little Colorado River about 4 miles upstream from its confluence with the Colorado, a place that is the potential site of a controversial development.  The canyons are relatively easily accessed by the steep Salt Trail that connects the rim with the Little Colorado.

We left our camping gear on top of the Redwall Limestone just above the technical section of Salt Trail Canyon, and descended it on our first day before hiking back up the Salt Trail to make camp (a convenient strategy for doing both Salt Trail and Big).  Salt Trail Canyon is famous for its huge water-filled keeper pothole, but the water in it was high enough that it wasn’t too hard to escape, and the rest of the canyon required just a few awkward rappels and some wading.

The next day we traversed (arduous) the top of the Redwall from our camp to where it intersects Big Canyon, and  despite somewhat threatening weather (flash floods??!!) we descended the beautiful canyon, including rappels down colorful travertine falls, without mishap, to emerge where it entered the turquoise waters of the Little Colorado. 

Our camp on the rim, along with Arizona Fish and Game trucks, parked during a humpback chub monitoring project on the Little Colorado, far below.

Blooming prickly pear on the rim.

Don (left) and Larry contemplating the Salt Trail from the rim.

On the Salt Trail.

Don rappelling into the big keeper in Salt Trail Canyon.

Swimming around in the keeper hole, looking for a way out.

Rappelling from the lip of the keeper to the canyon below.

Salt Trail Canyon rappel.

Larry (top) downclimbing in Salt Trail Canyon.  Don and Jim below.

A Redwall limestone anchor.

Jim Akers, deep in Salt Trail Canyon.

Adding a stone while climbing back to camp.

We weren't the first to ascend the Salt Trail.  

Jim, Don, and Larry (L to R) looking at the Little Colorado from the Redwall traverse to Big Canyon.

Larry downclimbing in Big Canyon.

Rock in Big Canyon.

The crew at the bottom of a rappel into a spring in Big Canyon.

Larry and Jim, Big Canyon.

Travertine falls, Big Canyon.

Travertine falls.

The Little Colorado River.

Biologists at the rim, soon to fly down the route we had just hiked up so that they could spend a week studying Humpback Chub and drinking cases of beer also flown down by helicopter.

Don and Larry, watching the humpback chub show at the rim.

An old scarecrow at a Navajo hogan near the rim.  I spoke to an older Navajo man who was out driving around in his truck.  He told me that he grew up near the rim, and that it was great.  He and his friends spent their days running up and down the roads and exploring.  "Now nobody wants to live out here," he told me.

Navajo scarecrow.

Navajo horses.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Canyon Walls

Neon Canyon.  Grand Staircase - Escalante. 
(Click images to view larger--best viewed large)

There’s an appeal in the relentless march of entropy—objects in nature decay and fall into patterns that are random and beautiful.  To me, this is especially apparent in arid places, because with more water comes a tangle of plants that is too complicated for me to sort into compositions after 30+ years of squinting through a viewfinder at the arid West.  

Eliot Porter, who masterfully photographed desert landscapes and wetter places, said:
 Much is missed if we have eyes only for the bright colors. Nature should be viewed without distinction… She makes no choice herself; everything that happens has equal significance. Nothing can be dispensed with. This is a common mistake that many people make: They think that half of nature can be destroyed — the uncomfortable half — while still retaining the acceptable and the pleasing side.” (Eliot Porter) 
I think that part of what he is saying is that patterns in nature are perfect because they are both random and inevitable (and stop screwing them up!). 

Over the years I've tried, and often failed, to capture the perfect random patterns in sandstone walls while wandering in Utah canyons.  My mind is on the desert this week as I prepare to head to the Grand Canyon on Friday for my spring canyoneering trip, so I’m resurrecting my woefully inactive blog with images of canyon walls.

Natural Bridges National Monument.

The Golden Cathedral.  Neon Canyon.  Grand Staircase - Escalante.

Harris Wash.  Grand Staircase - Escalante.

West Fork Big Spring Canyon.  High Roost.

High Spur Canyon.  High Roost.

Hurricane Wash.  Grand Staircase - Escalante.

Coyote Gulch.  Grand Staircase - Escalante.

Coyote Gulch.

Coyote Gulch.

Silver Falls Creek.  Grand Staircase - Escalante.

Harris Wash.

Echo Canyon.  Zion National Park.

Echo Canyon.

Echo Canyon.

Pine Creek.  Zion National Park.

The Golden Cathedral -- Ceiling.

Along Escalante River near Choprock Canyon.  Grand Staircase - Escalante.

Kane Gulch.  Cedar Mesa.

Peek-a-boo Canyon. Grand Staircase - Escalante.

Neon Canyon.

Willow Gulch.  Grand Staircase - Escalante.

Willow Gulch.